Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

Clutter Has No Gender

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International Women's Day Logo

This month we celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme for this year’s event is #pressforprogress in gender parity.

I actually had to look up what gender parity meant before I wrote this.

Gender parity is not some catchy slogan. It is a statistical measure created by the United Nations International, Educational and Social Organization or UNESCO that compares a particular indicator among women, like average income, to the same indicator among men.

Specifically the GPI measures the extent to which all genders have equal access to opportunities such as education, employment and consideration for either, across the world.

So what does gender parity have to do with home organizing?

According to NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing specialists, women are three times more likely to assign themselves or be perceived as the one with primary responsibility for home organization.

Women, in general, are more likely to be stressed by the clutter in their homes and more anxious about maintaining organizing systems such as managing mail and paying bills even when the existence of those systems – or lack thereof – affects everyone in the home.

Women are more likely to take on the responsibility as well as the cost (in time and money) of disorganization even if they spend equal time earning income outside of the home.

If they have children, they are twice as likely, than their spouses, to blame themselves or worse, are blamed, for clutter and a lack of order in their homes.

The belief or misconception that women, by virtue of their gender, should automatically know how to be organized has always irked me. I don’t recall learning in my high school biology classes that women have an “organizing” gene. I know I didn’t! Everything I know as a Certified Professional Organizer I learned.

Assigning responsibility or even blame for a home’s organization to “Mom” “Wife” or “Daughter” in a home shared by multiple genders, is like saying the flood in the basement from the heavy rains that damaged the floor is Mom’s fault instead of the absence of a good drainage system.

Now that it’s the 21st century, I think it’s time for this 19th century mindset to change. In the spirit of #pressforprogress I am putting forth these 5 core gender parity statements. I hope you will consider sharing them under the hashtag, #clutterhasnogender

  • Clutter at home is gender neutral
  • Both genders can be organized or disorganized. Don’t assume women are more or less organized than men.
  • Knowing what to keep, sell, donate or toss can be learned by any gender
  • Organizing systems and habits can and should be learned, taught or adopted by multiple family members; Men, women and children!
  • The responsibility for cleaning, organizing and maintaining one’s home is NOT gender specific

For more information on ways you can support or learn more about International Women’s Day, visit: http://www.internationalwomensday.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a lobster can teach us about getting organized

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What a Lobster Can Teach about Getting Organized

I’m going to tell you a short story about a lobster to illustrate what happens to us when we experience change and more importantly when we are called to take action when we want to change something about ourselves or our homes. 

As a lobster ages and grows, it needs to shed it’s shell. It does this by finding the safest place it can in the rough surf of the ocean and far away from other predators. As it matures, its shell starts to constrict around it’s body. If it didn’t shed its shell, it would suffocate and die. This means that until its new shell hardens, the lobster will be completely vulnerable to the elements. It has an instinctual need to risk its life in order to grow and thrive.

For many of us “change,” even when it’s for the good, such as when we decide to get organized,  makes us feel like that lobster.  We know we need to move forward but sometimes the thought scares us as much as being thrown into a violent ocean current.  Not changing can also mean suffocating in our own shells.  It’s no wonder facing change and taking action can be so overwhelming.

Change, though not a linear process, is like the lifespan of the lobster. It involves a process of feeling uncomfortable enough to make a change that will bring us to know ourselves better.  It involves several phases which I’ve narrowed down to six.

The Six Phases of Change
1)    Passive discontent
2)    Naming the problem
3)    Getting help
4)    Readiness
5)    Doing
6)    Results

Phase 1:  “Passive Discontent”

This is the phase marked by general feelings of dissatisfaction with the status quo. It’s a kind of restlessness combined with a  heightened level of awareness. It may come about after you’ve read a book, seen a TV show or heard someone talk about something that makes you uncomfortable, angry, sad, frustrated or overwhelmed.  Those close to you may have even hinted to you that something was wrong. You’ve been feeling “not yourself” but you’re not ready to take action yet.

The sad part is some people stay at this phase forever. This happens when the pain of changing exceeds the pain of the status quo.
Such is the case for some people with severe and chronic disorganization or  Chronic Hoarding Disorder  This happens when people pose a risk to their own (or other’s) health and safety by retaining extreme levels of indoor and outdoor clutter.

Unfortunately, the anxiety they feel when they consider letting go of possessions, no matter what condition, can exceed the pain of living in spaces that are completely unusable. Thus they remain stuck in a kind of limbo until forced to make a change against their own will.  Most people who feel disorganized are not “Hoarders.”  Instead we all fall somewhere along a spectrum from minimalist to severe acquirer. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

Phase 2: “Naming the problem”

When you ask yourself the question, What needs changing or what needs organizing? You are at this phase. This is where the soul-searching begins. You start thinking about resources for answers but you’re still apprehensive about verbalizing your thoughts or asking for help.  Early attempts to express your dissatisfaction may result in your retreating to your shell especially if you are feeling unsure of yourself or if you are concerned about the judgment of others.

Phase 3: “Getting Help”

At this point you may be ready to look for some information or answers to help you better understand your feelings. These are actions that would include talking to friends and family as well as gathering information through research, online searches or consulting with professionals.  You may start reading or attending talks or asking for advice.  You’re dipping your toes in the water but you’re not yet ready to dive in. You’ve started to realize you can’t make the change you want by yourself and you may even start to feel some hope as you move to the next phase of being ready to take some action.

Phase 4: “Readiness”

You are now committed to using the physical, emotional or financial resources you have to start making some changes.  You’ve hired a professional, received some good advice, or resolved to take action yourself. You may be feeling both relieved and impatient as you realize you want to make change happen sooner rather than later.

Phase 5: “Doing”

During the “Doing” phase, you experience the ups and downs of progress. Slip-ups may occur and you may feel discouraged. Motivation is replaced by the need for habits and contingency plans. Your ability to achieve your desired change is dependent upon your ability to withstand the disappointments, backsliding and obstacles. This is where planning is so critical to the process of change. If you don’t have a plan of action, you may get to this part of your journey and want to give up. Having a plan is something you should have in place by this phase. This is where hiring a professional organizer is worthwhile because he or she will have the expertise to help you plan for all contingencies, anticipating problems and suggesting alternatives.

Phase 6: “Results ”

Circumstances change from inside and out. Making small changes can have a big impact on your life. As a result of the changes you make and the actions you take, major events may occur. You can experience these as both “good” and “bad”. You’ll gain greater clarity around goals and desires and your energy increases but you may also see the unexpected consequence of the actions you’ve taken.  People around you may behave differently towards you. Some may try to sabotage you. If you need to, seek some outside advice from friends or professionals who have tread the same path or who can advise you about how to manage unsupportive people. When you get to where you want to be, you can reflect on how far you’ve come.

 

The Motivating Power of WHY

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All during January you are going to hear and see stories about getting organized. It’s the second most common resolution people make after “lose weight” and about as likely to happen. So what kills a thousand good intentions? It’s not because you are weak or lack the skills or even a plan. It’s because you haven’t come up with a truly, compelling, all-out, no holds barred, take no prisoners, terrifyingly vivid and all consuming, WHY as in, why do I want to be more organized? There are lots of really good reasons to get organized here are a few I’ve heard over the years:

  • Be free to do more with my time
  • Feel less stress and anxiety
  • Be able to entertain at home or have friends over
  • Have more room and time to do what I enjoy
  • Be a better model for my children​
  • Get more done at work and present myself more positively​
Getting clear on your WHY is the key to following through on your organizing goals or resolutions. It is the single most important motivator when you start and it’s the glue that helps you keep going when you back-track. Most importantly your WHY has to be for you! It doesn’t mean your family or coworkers or boss won’t appreciate it, but it has to mean more to you!
If your WHY is not strong enough to get you going, then pick another. When I started organizing it was right after I left my job in 2008. I was going stir-crazy because I wanted to be useful and I needed to see results. I certainly didn’t know then that I was going to become a professional organizer, let alone start my own business. My WHY was about my desperately needing to feel in control at a time in my life when things felt very chaotic.  Of course, the added bonus was that I also could also find that cute green jacket when I needed it and I stopped buying duplicates of antiperspirant. Want to know the full story of how I got started? Click here

The Meaning of Things

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Recently I’ve been thinking about things. Not things in a colloquial sense but literal things, objects: the computer; my grandmother’s sculpture; the four pairs of eyeglasses I own. I’ve also been thinking about memories. What it means to have a memory? What it means to lose your memory? What it means to lose your memories, as thousands of people did last week when they lost their homes in the Northern California fires, just about 90 minutes from my home in Oakland.

I work with people nearly every week helping them decide what to do when they want (or need) to let go of stuff. Not just the things that remind them of who they once were, or places they once visited but also regular things too; Things they find useful or once did.

Two of my close friends lost their home in the Northern California fires. They lost everything they owned. They had just enough time to escape with their dogs and the clothes they must have quickly put on since it was 1 a.m. when they evacuated. My friends are extremely resilient. They’ve chosen to move forward, not look back. I know it must be hard. I wonder how often during the day they face the inconvenience of no longer having small things, or feel the waves of grief flow over them when they think about the loss of more important stuff.

I’ve heard many of my clients say to me, “I can’t let that go. It reminds me of ….” I sometimes ask, what would happen if (blank) should disappear? Would the memory go with it? In some cases it could and it does. I think this is what is so profoundly difficult about the process of getting organized, downsized or as I like to call it “curating” your life’s contents.

A long time ago I was hired to clear out a small storage unit belonging to a woman who had died and whose family was not interested in claiming the contents. There was in fact nothing of significant monetary value left behind but there were “memories.”  Commemorative plaques; a community service award; several family photos, a child’s simple drawings as well as knickknacks and other personal items. Things that were obtained, given, created for her and about her. Without her, I realized they didn’t mean much to me but they meant something to her.

People who lost everything in the Northern California fires last week and for that matter from the storms in Texas and Puerto Rico just days earlier, are heard in the news saying how “grateful” they are for having their families, for having survived, for knowing how “lucky” they were. It’s an amazing testament to their humanity that they can recognize this at one of the lowest points of their lives. And I have no doubt that they too are grieving the loss of their memories and possessions.

I’m not sure what all this has taught me as a professional organizer or even just as another human being. Of course, like many, I’ve considered what I would do and feel if I was in a similar circumstance. As a professional, I wholeheartedly encourage planning whether it be creating a safety plan with your family, an emergency kit or getting your most treasured memories and important documents digitized.

Being prepared also means helping those you love be better prepared to grieve by making your wishes known ahead of time, like a living will. This type of document lets others know what matters most to you when you can no longer make those decisions yourself. A dear friend did this about six months before she passed away and it made a world of difference to her closest friends and family. She wrote her plans down. At the top of the page she’d written the title, “End Of Life Matters.” The irony was not lost on either of us.

Last week my crew and I helped a couple downsize their home of twenty plus years. It’s something I’ve done many, many times yet each experience is different. Together and separately my clients made literally thousands of decisions in just a few days. Some of those decisions were easy. Many more were not. Even the most seemingly benign objects brought back memories of family gatherings, professional obligations, personal triumphs and poignant losses. Without context they are just things but for them they represented the meaning of their lives.

When my clients let go of things sometimes the memories go with them. I see my clients resist and I feel that struggle. Sometimes I even feel it directed at me though I know it’s not. I tell them, “I don’t have an opinion about what you keep. I do, however, have an opinion about helping you get to where you want to go.”

Letting go of things can sometimes feel like choosing to let go of memories. And who chooses to let go of their memories?! At least with my clients the choice is theirs. This wasn’t the case for the people in the recent fires. Do their memories go with them even when they have lost everything?

I hope so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to do with your stuff when later becomes now

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When it comes to the stuff in our homes, I believe a  continuum exists between two points  –  keep everything and save nothing. Most people fall somewhere in between.  Yes, there are extremes at both ends – those with a tendency to acquire an excessive amount and those with an equally extreme tendency to rid themselves of anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. But for most people, myself included, we all have sentimental attachments.

The other day I was wandering through my home and thinking about what I absolutely had to keep if I ever had to make the choice. As a professional organizer, it’s an exercise I practice regularly as a way to empathize with my clients.

It turned out the things I really felt strongly about were the items I have the most sentimental attachment to.  None of it was furniture, thankfully.  Mostly letters from my parents and close friends that could never be replaced. Photographs (the paper kind) from my childhood and “keepsakes” that I don’t need but that don’t take up much space either. I also have some written work that would be difficult to replace unless I took the time to scan it and for me, that’s not worth my time.

My husband has a box of important stuff related to his daughter, my step-daughter. And of course, I have a small  “treasure box” of memorabilia from our life together.

The only time I know I would go through this stuff is if I were moving or downsizing. Otherwise it stays hidden, for the most part.   But what does it mean not to have these things? Would it feel like my life had ended? What happens when you keep things with the intention of looking at them later and then find later is now?

Even if it comes unexpectedly, now should be when you get to re-read the letters, sort through the photos, recall the memories and maybe even tell the stories.  But now is often competing with time itself. The house has to be sold. The move has to happen. The remodel is about to start.  Sometimes, sadly, the owner of these things is no longer around for the task.

As an organizer, this is the most poignant part of my work; When I realize the meaning of that photo, award or stuffed animal toy only exists because of the person who imparted that meaning.  When it belongs to someone else, you can impart your own meaning, but then you are left with the same dilemma: Keep it or let it go?

I find it’s useful to consider the truth of these questions when later suddenly becomes now.

  • Would my life really be over if I let these things go or would I just feel that way?
  • Is everything meaningful or could I pick out just the things that are most important to me?
  • By keeping everything, am I placing a significant burden on my family to deal with later?
  • Am I keeping everything as an excuse to avoid creating new memories?
  • If this or that item should disappear would I miss it or attempt to replace it if I could?
  • Would taking a picture of it allow me to let it go if I had to?
  • Is there anyone who I know for certain who would want it (be careful with this one since you don’t want to obligate someone to take something they really don’t want).
  • Do I really love it or am I keeping it to satisfy someone else’s (perceived) need – such as when you keep it not because you like it but because it was a gift from someone you care about.

Life is like walking through a wonderful art museum. You get to admire and spend a little time with the art work that resonates the most with you. You may even be able to take pictures or buy postcards. But at the end of the day, you don’t get to keep what you saw. You do however get to remember how you felt.

Why you shouldn’t “get organized” in 2014

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2013 2014 in SandJanuary is the perfect time to plan your personal organizing and productivity goals but like most people you’ll probably never do anything about them.

Forgive me if that sounds a bit cynical but over the years I have realized a lot of people say they want to get more organized but don’t.  That’s because they realize it’s boring and tedious, which it can be unless you are naturally organized.

After all, who wants to think about organizing a garage or the year’s tax receipts when it’s all you can do to get out of the house in the morning?

Instead of resolving to “get organized” this year,  think about what positive change you want in your life and then connect that change to something you can control.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you want to do a better job at saving money.

Start by examining the ways you spend your money now. There are numerous and easy ways to do this. One of the simplest is perusing your bank account over the past year. Many banks provide a “quick view” of where your money went by category such as groceries, mortgage, gifts, utilities, tuition, etc.

Look for some of the hidden ways you spend money. For example, I had a client who owned four identical blouses, two with their price tags still attached.  Her clothes closet was so cluttered she didn’t remember she owned them.

After organizing her closet, she could easily see everything she kept stored.  No more time wasted looking for things she couldn’t find. No more getting late to work every day. No more money spent on duplicates.

When you discover how and where you spend your money, it becomes easier to adjust your budget and your spending.

Did you resolve to get healthier this year? Try losing a few clutter pounds.

I guarantee, when you let go of unwanted things in your life it actually makes you feel lighter. When you feel lighter you feel like being more active. The more active you are, the healthier you will be and feel.

I had a client who felt so much lighter after our work together organizing his home office, he started a regular jogging routine. Eventually he started running and last year he entered and completed his first marathon.

Is 2014 the year you change your job or career? Be innovative.

Keep your mind active any way you can. Whether that means taking dance lessons or organizing your model car collection. Make connections and start connecting the dots. What kind of people or ideas attract you?  Take small risks like joining a networking group (if you’re shy).  Do something productive.  Bake a cake.  Write a poem. Fix a broken appliance. Organize your closet. Anything so long as you can see and experience the result.

I know a woman who was unhappy at her job. In 2008 at the start of the recession, she found herself unemployed.   She spent the next few months doing all the things she had wanted to do while she was working but didn’t have the time or energy to do. She read books, took classes, did volunteer work and one night she organized her bathroom cabinet, just because she felt like it.

Four months later she started her own organizing business. That woman, by the way, is me.

So when you are thinking about your resolutions for 2014, don’t include “get organized” unless you know why you want to get organized?  Instead, consider what you want to accomplish and see if it’s something you can get by doing what you do naturally. 

Life is short.  At the end of your life, chances are you won’t wish you were more organized. If, however, getting organized gives you what you want, helps you save money, advances your goals, takes away your stress or gives you more peace of mind,  then by all means, do it.

Still feeling stuck? Come back next week to get some quick-start tips that will help you start your year off on the right track.

A Year of Transformation

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ElegantHolidayTable2013.

A year of transformation.  As you recall the most notable events of the past year, whether they be global, local or personal, why not take a moment to reflect on your life today, right now, in this moment. Because it will change.

If you’re not even sure where to begin, here are a few thought provoking questions to help you get started.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do?

Did you take the time to focus on what is really important to you?

Do you recognize the areas where you succeeded and where you would still like to grow?

Can you see how your contributions fit into the grand scheme of life?

Transformation takes mental and physical sweat, I once read. It also takes intensity mindfulness and focus. It’s not easy to know who we are supposed to be let alone know how to fully inhabit ourselves.  At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to think bigger. It was time for LET’S MAKE ROOM to make room to grow.

I love helping people get organized, however, I felt I could accomplish more for my clients if I wasn’t working alone as much.  I also realized, after several people hired me to help them get organized to move, or empty a family home they were selling, or help them get unpacked, that there was a need LET’S MAKE ROOM could fill, especially in the San Francisco/East Bay Community where I live.

I realized, we could take the stress out of moving for busy families and other homeowners because we could fully dedicate ourselves to the process allowing our clients the flexibility and time to work or simply enjoy their lives, even when they didn’t live here.

Thus the idea of becoming a complete residential organizing service, one that would help people Get Organized, Get Moved and Get More Done, was born.

At first I resisted the idea of growing. I felt unsure of what it would mean in terms of my ability to keep ‘tabs’ on my little business. Then a series of big jobs came my way and I realized that I could no longer limit myself. Life presented me with a choice. Some people would say it was “luck.” I’ve always believed that luck is nothing more than an opportunity meeting with persistence.

Opportunity is like a strong wind you can’t escape from. You just have to hold strong and at the same time let yourself be carried forward, or backwards, or sideways.

Sometimes opportunity comes in the form of an unexpected loss or change. It can even be an expected change, such as growing older and you find yourself suddenly having to make a choice.

Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Mary Oliver writes about this in her poem entitled, The Journey:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Her words have followed me from my old career through launching LET’S MAKE ROOM. I have it posted on the wall next to my desk in my office along with a collage of other inspiring words and images.

And in case you’re wondering, they are not neatly hung in frames but rather displayed, somewhat haphazardly.  Sometimes that’s the way life is, even for an organizer.

 

The Yoga of Organizing

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My friend and Yogini extraordinaire, Deborah Saliby, called me on Sunday asking for my advice.

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Deborah Saliby, Yoga for Health

Deborah has been teaching Yoga for more than thirty years.  There are a lot of Yoga teachers out there but relatively few hold the special certification that she does in Iyengar training. The certification signifies that she has undergone extensive training as an instructor in a particular method of Hatha Yoga called Iyengar, named for B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the foremost Yoga teachers in the world.

Whenever I have a question about Yoga, I call Deborah.  The moment I feel like my body, mind and spirit are crying out for a little restoration, Deborah is the first person I think of.  On Sunday, however, after her class, Deborah’s mind and spirit were crying out for a different kind of restoration, in her home.  I am grateful she called me.

“I want to organize three closets in my house,” she told me,
“but I’m not sure where to start.” She asked if I would mind sharing some of my professional organizing tips.  “Of course,” I told her. I enjoy it when anyone calls me with a specific organizing question. To me if you are willing to ask the question, you are definitely in the mindset to get organized.

As a professional organizer,  the most common questions I get involve the how and where of organizing, as in “how do I do this?” or “where do I start?”  Typically this follows an extended period of gradual awareness which eventually transforms into “I really wish my (fill in the blank) was more organized. But it’s not until the defining moment when the thought, “today is the day I’m going to do something about it,” that change can occur.

For my friend Deborah that moment came after she got home from teaching one of the many Yoga classes she leads in Berkeley, California.

“So where do you want to start?” I asked. “I don’t know, she said. So I probed a little more. “Which of your closets bugs you the most, that is, which has the most impact on your daily life? “My bedroom closet where I keep all my clothes,” she said, with a little giggle, “you know how much I love to shop?”

“Okay,” I said. “So why do you want to do this at all?” She explained to me that she wanted to hold a sidewalk sale. “Yes,” I said, “that’s good, but why do you want to get organized?” I asked again. “Because I can’t stand looking at the mess in my closet anymore. I know I have a lot of nice things in there that I don’t want anymore and half the time I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m wasting time and I want to be able to wear what I love.”

Deborah understood what was bothering her about her closet but even more she knew what organizing it would mean to her (not to anyone else) and she was motivated. Plus she had the added incentive of making a little extra money. I told her, “Yeah, you could sell all the clothes you don’t want anymore and with the money you make go out and buy new ones.”  We both laughed.

I offered Deborah a step-by-step plan to get all three of her closets organized.  I shared some strategies for how to overcome some predictable obstacles such as what to do with items that had more “emotional value” than “wear-value.”  I took her through exactly what I would do with her if I were physically doing the work with her and then I asked her if she had any questions. “Nope, I’ve got it.”

Before we hung up I told her to feel free to call me when she was done with the first closet.  Even though Deborah was doing this for herself, I wanted her to know that I was interested in hearing about her progress.

The next day, Deborah did call. She sounded really happy.  She told me how she had followed my plan including emptying the entire closet first, sorting items by category, parting with what she no longer used, wore, or loved and got rid of things that brought in bad “mojo.”  She reorganized the items she kept by type and color and put aside those things she plans to include in her sidewalk sale.  In total it took her two hours. I was impressed.

“How do you feel now?” I asked her, “Great! Just walking past my closet makes me happy.”Neat Closet

I offered Deborah some final tips about items she was still undecided about and suggested some ways to contain items on the shelves using what she already had around her house, before saying goodbye.

After we hung up I went in to my living room and took a big breath and stretched.  Thank you for that, Deborah.

Have a question about organizing? Getting ready to move or start a home renovation project and need to get things packed, donated and organized? Call or email me. I promise you’ll come away with something you can use.

As I told Deborah, I love to be a catalyst for change.

Confronting our monsters

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At 8:00 this morning, I had my own private celebration. It took place in my head.

An hour earlier I was driving and thinking about how terrifying it must be for some of my clients to do the one thing that scares them the most; To finally confront what’s kept them from moving forward in their lives because they feel overwhelmed and stuck and it’s showing up as piles of papers, boxes and who knows what else, on their desks, on the floor, in their drawers, everywhere.

I was thinking about what it means to do the one thing that scares you the most and to have the courage to do it anyway because you know you have to. Because you know not doing so will have far greater consequences.

For people who are chronically disorganized, the consequence of not facing their fears can be enormous.  For some it’s a loss of control over their lives. For others, it’s isolation. I know people who have lost their children, their spouses and their very security because of their inability to face their fears head on.  I also know people who have shown great courage and have discovered the meaning of making room in their lives.

My fears are about public speaking. And yet, as a small business person I know the value it brings to others in the form of information and sometimes even inspiration. But I do it quite frankly because I have to. Working with people in their homes and in their offices or helping them move is tactical but it’s also very personal. I know that if people see me and feel I am someone they can trust, and recognize I  have the expertise to help them, then they often will remember me when it comes time to organize their offices, or their bedrooms or help them plan and oversee their move to a new home.

The Paper MonsterThis is what I was thinking at seven o’clock this morning, on my way to speak to a group of fifty small business owners and entrepreneurs about how to face their fears, specifically about how to confront their own Paper Monsters.  I did this presentation a few weeks earlier and it had not lived up to my expectations  – perfectionism, my monster, rearing it’s ugly head, yet again –  and now I was getting ready to face him again.  Was I scared? Petrified, which is why at that moment I started thinking about my clients.

“If  they can have the courage to hire me, then I can damn well find the courage to face my fears as well, ” I thought.  And so I did. And it went fine. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. And that’s good enough. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. At least for today I can celebrate.

Tomorrow, I do it again.

My Top 10 Must Do’s

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What would you do if you learned you only had a year to live?

Fortunately, this hasn’t happened to me (at least not today) but I recently compiled a list of ten things I want to do in my life. I shared my list with a group of about 40 other women who also shared theirs during a monthly women’s social group I attend.

The idea of a “Bucket List” was made popular by the movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The movie is about two terminally ill men (portrayed by Nicholson and Freeman) on a final road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”

I haven’t seen the movie but I would bet that the movie character’s lists don’t veer too far from what I heard from the women in my group.  Sure, there were some creative and unusual wishes: “Get the keys to every major museum in the world (and) go in at night and wander around with an art historian,” to “Witness a contact from outer space,” but mostly I was struck by how similar our lists were.

The most common themes included the desire to experience the natural world (animals, landscapes, oceans, parks); travel; grow old to see our children (including nieces and nephews) and grandchildren thrive; be healthy or live healthier (presumably as compared to how we are now); do something creative or adventurous; learn a new skill; contribute to our communities in a meaningful and lasting way; and most, if not all wanted to experience more love in our lives either toward those closest to us, toward those we hope to meet and not surprisingly, toward ourselves.

With the possible exception of growing older in health, it was reassuring to realize that just about all these themes are achievable and for the most part, well within our control.

Yet, sadly, many of us never even get close to living our dreams. Instead we get caught up in the demands of daily life, the burden of keeping up with too much stuff and too much information (seemingly urgent but rarely important) and the false belief that our heart’s desires can only be achieved through some miraculous intervention or enormous compromise.

I am a victim of this belief as much as anyone. So much so that when I tried to imagine how I would achieve my greatest wish – to take a trip on the famed Orient Express from London through, Strasbourg and finally to Paris and back, the only way I could imagine my wish becoming reality was to wait until I was diagnosed with some terminal disease and then cash in my retirement money to pay for it (since I probably would no longer have a need for a “retirement.” )

Here is my “bucket” list if you’re curious:

  1. Take a week long vacation on the actual Orient Express – London, Strasbourg, Paris, and back.
  2. Visit a wildlife preserve in Africa
  3. Vacation in the  North Italian coastal region of the Cinque Terre
  4. Write and have a book published by a major publishing house
  5. Meet Joni Mitchell
  6. Be on television, featured for my expertise.
  7. Learn to speak Spanish
  8. Go to Esalen at Big Sur and soak in the hot tubs overlooking the Pacific
  9. Get a dog
  10. See the Aurora Borealis (aka the “northern lights”)

The absurdity of my realization is the essential dilemma we all face. Do we choose a life of practicality, security and presumed “peace of mind,” or do we throw the dice and risk losing it all (whatever ‘all’ is) to experience our dreams but at the possible expense of our long term survival?

I wish I had an answer to this question. I don’t. All I know is that I only have one life to live (excuse the soap opera reference) and at the end of it I’m not going to wish I’d spent more time regretting what I never did.