Master Unclutterer: The Erin Doland Interview
The subplot of our Manifesto of Style is basically this: be conscious about your stuff and thereby set yourself free! We worship at the altar of simplicity. So Erin Doland’s blog, Unclutterer is like, stuff management scripture. The de-cluttering tips are heavenly. Her Gift Giving Guide is eco-brilliant.
Erin is actually a recovered pack rat. She’s proof that space management isn’t a gene gifted to just Virgos and A-types, it’s a muscle. You can learn to let go. There is hope for our over-stuffed planet!
We caught up with Erin from her well-organized DC-area office:
What’s the advice that you’re always giving people?
“The less stuff you own, the less you have to clean,” and, “Even if you live to be 100, life is short. Don’t wait to pursue a remarkable life.”
How do you get things done? You must get so much done.
I like to break things into pieces, dissect a project into small steps and action items, and focus on just one part of a process at a time. At set intervals, I’ll step back, picture the whole of the project, and evaluate how the little parts are working in relation to the bigger picture. I can’t think about the whole project for too long, though, because I’ll get overwhelmed and imagine the goal to be larger than my abilities or schedule permit. So, I’ll refocus my concentration on the details, the small manageable tasks that I can wrap my head around. Then, one day, I’ll look at my schedule, and there won’t be any work left to do on the project. I get a sudden rush of joy from finishing my work, and I know it’s time to start another project.
What are the tools of your trade?
A MacBook, a warm cup of coffee, and my trusty stopwatch. When I lose focus, I set my stopwatch to beep every five minutes. It helps me to stay on task when my mind is more interested in goofing off instead of writing.
What inspires you?
People often inspire me – my husband, my friends and family, people I encounter in a store or at the bar in a restaurant, great authors of the past and present, my former students. Their ideas, achievements, courage, determination, and their wit and wisdom inspire me. I’m also inspired when I see beautiful craftsmanship, commanding artwork, and taste incredible food. I spend at least 15 minutes every morning sitting in silence, and it never ceases to amaze me how much inspiration I gain from just that moment of pause.
What books or movies have inspired you the most?
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman is the book I turn to whenever I’m in a rut and need a fresh perspective. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee taught me the science and craft of cooking.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and poets from the British Romantic period inspired me to become a writer.
George Washington’s first inaugural address and Elie Wiesel’s The Perils of Indifference speech are powerful and filled with lessons on personal responsibility.
I’m a better person for having seen the film Searching for Bobby Fischer.
And, I probably wouldn’t have gone out on my first date with my husband if he hadn’t bragged to me that he grew up in the shadow of the “Save Ferris” water tower from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Just by virtue of being you, what are you teaching?
I have no idea if I’m effective in my pursuits, but I hope to teach people about the benefits of simple living. Clutter – in the form of objects, possessions, negative relationships, anxiety, disorganized processes, anything you don’t want in your life – can keep us from achieving and focusing on the things that truly matter. Through my work and personal life, I try to inspire others to clear their clutter so that they can experience a less stressful, more rewarding life.
What do you collect, or have a lot of?
I collect pork-themed pop art, mid-20th century toy robots, and brilliant friends who make me laugh and learn.
Okay, we gotta ask…pork themed pop-art? Say what?
Six months before I was married in 2001, the National Pork Board launched an advertising campaign that replaced words in common phrases with the word pork. For example, “One potato, two potato, three potato, pork!” or “Life is a bowl of pork chops.” They were all over the subway stations and in all of the bus stops around DC. I don’t know why, but PJ (my beau) became enamored with them. He started putting the word pork into his sentences where it didn’t belong, and it always made me laugh.
I phoned the advertising agency that created the campaign to see if I could buy one of the posters to give to my husband as a wedding gift, and they ended up mailing me one of the New York City subway posters that was 6′ X 4′ for free. It was an accidental print, and they weren’t even supposed to have an extra. The head of the project had planned to take it home with her, but when she heard my request for it as a wedding gift … well, she was just too kind. So now, in our dining room, hangs a giant 6′ poster that says “I scream, you scream, we all scream, for pork loin!”
For our fifth anniversary, I found a really creepy advertisement from the 1960s that was of a scary looking little girl being served a piece of ham. An artist in Fairfax cropped the image, blew it up, and made me three prints of what are now referred to as “demonic ham girl.” The pictures hang next to the giant pork poster.
Hopefully the pictures make it seem, um, less creepy … but it probably won’t …
What’s the feeling you’re usually trying to achieve?
Serenity. It’s a blissful mixture of joy, relaxation, and awe.
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In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of Unclutterer.com and a twice-weekly contributor on RealSimple.com, Erin Doland’s writing also currently appears on page 40 of the August/September issue of Ready Made magazine.