Cleaning House–Saving Memories, Losing Junk

March 20, 2007

Being surrounded by out of date possessions slows the mind and drags down the spirit. It is easy to get lost in them.

The easiest approach is to store them somewhere, the attic, basement, or garage. Increasingly people are renting external storage space, at significant expense to store junk. A recent statistic indicated that twice as many families rent external space now than ten years ago. Interestingly, professional organizers often advise against renting external storage space. Once that sink hole opens, there is no turning back.

At some time though, it’s time to move or just dig out. Then, it may be difficult to distinguish items which have real economic or sentimental value from outdated stuff. Here are some ways to get a grip on the situation.

1. Sentimental Objects.

The joy of these objects is in the occasional discovery and the memories triggered by them. Keep the emotion of discovery alive, even if the object is not kept.

Most sentimental objects are stored out of sight and only occasionally rediscovered. It is the discovery, not the use that is the fun. But you can keep the possibility of discovery alive. Use that digital camera to take pictures of all these sentimental items before they make their way out. Burn a few disks and send them to the family members. They can stuff the disk in their drawers and every now and then stumble across it with pleasure. Actually, more people may share in the delight of discovery

Some of these items can never be used again, like the stuffed animals that have gotten musty or are now recognized as dirty. Others could have great value for people right now. Find these a new home.

2. Select Rather than Sort.

Select from scratch. A key question is: “Would you select this item if you did not already own it?” It may be nice to have, but would you actively choose it now? Suddenly many items become expendable. Why find a new place for something you would not choose?

Usually, people tend to sort through things into keepers and junk. This sorting approach favors keepers since the criteria for declaring something junk is much higher. Selecting is a more efficient process.

3. Assess Usefulness and Value.

There are so many things that might come in handy someday and are worth something. This stuff surrounds us. However, when the items are viewed in terms of the chance that they will actually be needed and the replacement cost, it becomes easier to shed these items.

Books are a good example. They just accumulate. Some are extraordinary and we will always want them around. Others, particularly gifts, have little interest but take their place on the shelves. If you look at a hundred books on your shelf, pick the ten best. Then select out the obvious losers for discard. There may be upwards of half in the gray area. The first instinct is to keep them. After all, there is some chance that you may want to reread a few of them at some indeterminate time in the future. There are two things to keep in mind. First, used books are much easier to replace than in the past. Almost any used book can be obtained relatively inexpensively over the web. So the real value of the books we may use again is really only a few dollars. As many as 90% of the books can be let go without much potential cost.

And clothes. If the clothing has not been worn in a couple of years, the question to ask. “When would this be worn again?” Without a specific answer, it can be let go.

If all of the items that have a small probability of being used again are grouped together, the pile is large. In fact however, there may only be a small expense in replacing those few items that will actually be needed again in the future.

A realistic view of probability of use against replacement cost changes the balance and allows the large amounts of marginal stuff to go.

These guidelines can help to clean house and make mood lighter and faster.

Common Sense, Carpal Tunnel Information, Treatment Options, and Acupuncture

February 28, 2007

In almost every large office, it seems that you pass someone wearing a wrist brace and a report of carpal tunnel. Some people suffer for years. Then, they may find that they did not get the most appropriate information or treatment.

If you search the web for “carpal tunnel treatment options”, a prominent site is published by the Mayo Clinic. The available progressive treatment options:

Splint or brace

Non-steroid anti-inflammatories

Cortisone injection

Surgery (open incision or endoscopic)

The same progression is listed on a number of similar sites such as the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

There is something missing here. For example, we know a number of people who have gotten excellent results using acupuncture procedures. These are real people, with actual experiences, but their treatment method seems to be ignored in the searched options.

This omission of information has to do with the way medicine is merchandised. If a physician or institution doesn’t sell the procedure, it’s not listed as an option. Other established procedures not available there may be mentioned with doubt or vague anecdotes. Disinformation may not be good medicine, but it is good marketing.

The sufferer must get the full background information himself. No one else will do it. The most reliable way is ask and learn from people who have had personal experience. It only takes a few questions and contacts to have access to the network of sufferers out there who have used acupuncture. Track down these professionals who have a record of excellent results treating carpal tunnel so that you can choose whether it fits into your treatment options. Anecdotes about unknown people, advertisements, commercial web references generally have little value.

Common Sense Approach to Treatment Options

Sufferers generally follow a prescribed program working through the options until the results are satisfactory. It is important to consider the options early, since after people begin a treatment or engage a physician, they tend to remain with it rather than evaluate new information and make a change.

With full information, different perspectives for treatment options can be considered. The objective is to reduce pain as fast as possible by working through the options in an appropriate order.

1. Methods with speed and no side effects

Acupuncture methods may not be familiar, but progress can be evaluated over a relatively short time period.

Braces and Splints

2. Drugs

Non-steroid anti-inflammatories, Cortisone injection

3. Invasive–Surgery

Open incision or Endoscopic

The important point is to recognize that no group will provide the sufferer with the full range of options available. However, to obtain information about less familiar methods, such as acupuncture, find the people who have had actual results and the professionals who did the treatment. Then use the information as appropriate .

Cold Remedies, Miso Soup, and the Influence of Advertising

February 19, 2007

There have not been many advertisements for miso soup. However, miso with scallions is a stronger cold medicine than most of the common remedies that are more profitable for the healthcare industry.

The ingredients in miso soup have a long record of warding off colds. Miso with scallions is an old Chinese herbal remedy. Its documentation goes back to the 4th century when the famous Chinese herbalist Ge Hong (284-363) wrote about it in a book “Zhou hou bei ji fang”, rendered in translation as “Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies.”

The soup has great value when used at the very first indication of a cold—headache, stuffy nose, slight fever, dry, scratchy throat. It should be taken immediately, not to even wait for the next meal. Then rest in bed, covered to induce sweating.

The first 4-6 hours are crucial. The formula can knock the cold out then, but later, after the cold develops, it’s too late. Other remedies are necessary.

It doesn’t matter if you believe this or not. Miso is just healthy food so anyone can try it for themselves and decide based on their own experience.

This information came to me recently. It worked. It is not described on the medical reference sites for colds on the web (i.e. Mayo Clinic, Wellness Letters etc.). Few people have ever heard this since there is no money to be made selling small amounts of soy bean paste and scallions. Perhaps someone will package it up, advertise, and sell it for a good profit. Then people may take notice.

In case you decide to try, here is the simplest recipe. Be sure to include the rootlets of the scallions.

Miso Soup


1 1/2 cups water.

1-2 Tablespoon Miso or red soy bean paste (usually sold in the refrigerated section).

6-8 green onions stalks also known as scallions, (white part) chopped. It is important to include the little rootlets from the scallions in the soup.


Bring water to a boil in a saucepan and add the miso & scallions.

Simmer for 5-10 minutes, no longer.

Lie down to rest covered up for a couple of hours to induce sweating.


Preventing Common Household Accidents—Swiss Cheese Model

September 12, 2006

There was a recent account in the news about the story of three fishermen who survived 9 months adrift at sea in a 29 foot boat. (NYTimes 8/26/06 A3). Although the emphasis of the report was on their survival activities, a review of the events leading to this accident can be helpful in preventing accidents at home.

Background–The boat and crew were on a shark-fishing trip, which typically lasts from 3 days to a week. There was concern at the outset that enough provisions (food, water, fuel) had been laid in for the trip. At sea, the crew lost their shark-fishing tackle. During the search for the equipment, they ran out of fuel. Winds pushed them out to sea where a current caught them and carried the boat 5000 miles west from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. There, the survivors were rescued by a fishing boat.

It was a series of breakdowns or coincidences that finally enabled the accident to occur. In this case, there were insufficient resources, a boat without a radio, poor judgment during the search, and an unfavorable wind and current direction.

Many accidents follow this pattern of several breakdowns. These breakdowns represent holes in the defense against an accident. The pattern is often recognized after the fact. However, a straightforward method of analysis exists that helps to identify the potential areas of risk for an accident before the event occurs.

The model developed by Reason (1990) is based on the assumption that there are several different elements that must all be considered in order have a safe event. Although there is always emphasis on the failure event itself, there are preconditions that have allowed this event to occur. The trick is to analyze these preconditions in advance. The categories are the unsafe act or accident itself, the conditions that enabled the accident event, the supervision, and the influence or attitude of those in charge.

The diagram above illustrates the “Swiss Cheese” name. Each of the levels of defense can have holes in them. Since there are several layers of protection, a failure in any one level does not lead to an accident. However, if all of the breakdowns in defense happen to line up, as with the holes in the diagram above, an accident can occur.

In the above example of the boat adrift, the facts can be classified in 4 defense categories:

Defense Category……………………………… Examples of Hole in Defense

1. Unsafe Act…………………………………..Running out of fuel

2. Precondition for Unsafe Act………..Inadequate Resources/Equipment

3. Unsafe Supervision…………………….Failure to call off search for tackle

4. Organization Influence………………Low regard for safety (lack of funds)

Application for Common Household Accident Prevention–Well, most people do not appear to be in such hazardous situations as the fishermen. Actually though, there are close to 30,000 deaths a year due to household accidents. The National Safety Council also estimates there is a disabling injury every 4 seconds. The magnitude of these numbers is astounding! Since the accidents are spread out both in time and over the country, the size does not attract attention. If they occurred in one place, it would be a disaster. This is a lot of suffering caused by everyday activities. It’s clear that some of it is preventable. The responsibility is with the individuals in their own home.The list of the leading categories is what might be expected:

Burns………. Choking……….. Cuts………. Falls…….. Poisoning

There are many web sites to get specific TIPS of preventive actions to take to reduce the risks of accidents in each category. Obviously, they should be used.

Beyond that, everyone’s situation is a little different; some risks are more specific to your own situation. Reason’s “Swiss Cheese Model” can be used to analyze and address these specific hazards before they become accidents.As an example, take the category of falls. The statistics show that consequences from falls are a serious problem for all ages, especially very young children and older adults.
One way to get started is to begin with a category and consider what one or two areas in your own home make you the most uneasy. It may be a steep set of stairs going into the basement. Then, a hazard assessment can be done by first considering the different preconditions that can lead to falling down the basement stairs. This assessment is followed by the taking into consideration the effects of supervision and attitudes. A typical assessment is shown in the table below:

Defense Categories:

1. Accident/Unsafe Act: Fall down stairs

2. Preconditions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3.Supervision/4.Owner

a) Material stored on stairs.. . . . . . .Allowed to remain (3. Supervision)

b) Dimly lit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . Tolerated (4. Owner attitude)

c) Not full hand rail. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tolerated (4. Owner attitude)

d) Slippery walking surface. . . . . . . Tolerated (4. Owner attitude)

e) Door left open. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Allowed to remain (3. Supervision)

Eliminating the preconditions of the accident is the first level of defense. Some of these preconditions, such as the material stored on the edge of the stairs, can be addressed by better supervision. This increased supervision adds another layer of defense. Others, such as the dim light or the handrail can be corrected by the owners. Some, such as the steepness of the stairs, must be accepted. However, changes in the attitude of the owners to make improvements also adds a layer of defense. Actions at each of these different defense levels, reduce the overall risk of an injury due to a fall.

In every home, look for specific areas that cause the people more concern for safety. People who live there know them. In addition to following good general preventive measures, available on the web, this method allows focus on those topics in a systematic way in order to reduce the risk as much as possible.

However, just doing the exercise, increases the awareness for the risks of accidents in other areas throughout the house. That is another significant benefit.

(diagram credit:

Companion Story to Illustrate:  Cause of  Common Accidents